Kevin Smith said he had decided to play basketball for coach Chris Mooney at University Richmond because it was the first school that really made him feel as though they had to have him. Three years after Smith graduated, Mooney decided he needed him again, this time as a member of the staff.
Smith was a member of the 2010-11 men's team that won an Atlantic 10 championship and appeared in the Sweet 16 round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament. Shortly after graduation, Smith left to pursue a professional basketball career in Japan.
After the 2012 season, Richmond experienced coaching changes and although Mooney was getting dozens of calls and inquires, he kept thinking of all the good memories he had of Smith, and what a great addition to the staff he would be.
"There are so many great memories of Kevin because he was such an exciting player," Mooney said. "I knew I wanted to hire Kevin, but first I had to install Skype. We got in touch with him and I offered him the job. He thought about it over the weekend, and he came back and said he wanted to do it."
Smith said he had been excited about being able to go overseas and test the waters of the next level, as every competitor wants to, but at the same time he knew he was leaving his family and some people who were important in his life, which was also a reason he came back.
Smith's friends and teammates overseas couldn't understand why he would want to stop playing in order to pursue coaching, but he said his love for the game had not changed.
"They thought I still had a lot left in the tank, but for me it wasn't about that," Smith said. "It was about where I was going to be the happiest. It had nothing to do with me not playing basketball because I'm still around basketball. My love for the game is still there, nothing has changed about that."
Smith returns to the men's basketball team this season as one of the directors of basketball operations, primarily responsible for the scheduling and the recruiting database. Ryan Butler, another former Spider standout and former teammate of Smith's, works alongside him as the other director of basketball operations.
"Kevin was always a high-energy guy," Butler said. "He could always, if we were up or down, he could get the crowd going. I wasn't the kind of guy to do that, so I always kind of envied that about him. That's probably what I remember most about him: his ability to not only fire the fans up, but also the team up. It's great that he's back because he has a bright outlook on life, can always turn a negative into a positive and can share his experiences with the guys on the current team."
Cedrick Lindsay, current senior point guard and one of the players that played with Smith his senior year, said it was strange having Smith back in more of a coaching setting because he had so many memories of playing with him.
"Midseason in 2010 he took over a starting role and really embraced it," Lindsay said. "He had big rebounds and huge dunks for us in the A-10 tournament. He was a huge reason why we won. That's probably my best memory of Kevin."
Lindsay said the current seniors who played with Smith their freshman year have been doing a great job of separating their friend Kevin from their coach Kevin.
This season, Smith steps into a newly renovated Robins Center, where he can see how his 2010 team influenced the men's basketball program. "I'm very proud that our accomplishments kind of spurred that start," Smith said. "There's a high regard for the program now. What we pass on is not to let that standard fall, on the court and off the court.
"We all really pride ourselves as being quality individuals. We'll go down in record books for what we did, but we'll continue to go down in record books for what we'll be able to do for the program and the university."
Smith said that this season he would act as a middleman between the players and coaches, the oil that would try to make the Richmond basketball machine run as smoothly as possible--all while striving to reach similar goals he had when he played here.
"Our goal is to win," Smith said. "I went to two NCAA tournaments and a Sweet 16, but my greatest accomplishment at Richmond was a degree. People didn't think I would last a semester here, and weren't sure our team would be good. Everyone on our team was overlooked and underrecruited. We earned that respect, just like I earned a degree and we earned those wins. Winning is the always the goal."
Mooney said: "Richmond is a unique place where we're trying to play a really high level of basketball at a really great academic school. There aren't that many places like that in the country, so just to have guys that have navigated that before and that understand how hard you have to work in the classroom, and how we expect our guys to act on and off the court, those are just huge things that Kevin and former players can bring to our program."
Mooney said Smith would be tremendous in anything he does but thought he could have a tremendous future in coaching. "Kevin is extremely intelligent," Mooney said. "He really knows basketball, he's a great communicator and he's very funny, and that's kind of a sign of his intelligence and how he gets along with people."
Lindsay has an entire season in front of him, but when he thinks about Smith as a possible head coach he said, "He's definitely the kind of coach and person I would play for."
Contact reporter Lauren Shute at firstname.lastname@example.org